Some time ago I said that what makes this show is friendship, not romance per se; and friends sacrifice for each other. That could be the watchword for these two pivotal episodes, but is there a sense in which it goes too far?
(This article was inspired by Seleria’s calling everyone in the show “a bloody martyr.”)
The funny thing is that Taiga is taking her emotional suppression much better than Minorin seems to be. Perhaps her hard life has made her much more accustomed to hiding her pain from plain view. Minori, on the other hand, is always now seen on the verge of breaking down, or visibly wincing at the presence of Ryuuji. Her facade has almost completely cracked and it’s really only a matter of time before it shatters.
It’s not like it’s absolutely clear to us, the viewers, as to what everyone is really feeling. The abrupt, bitterly ironic episode 19 showed us that thoroughly, with the pivotal moment being Taiga’s own admission of her love for Ryuuji–something, it turns out, the book does with even more stark poignancy than the anime. (See the second half of that chapter.) So we know where she stands, and every single scene in episode 20 where she seems genuinely helpful, genuinely trying to stay out of the way of Ryuji and Minori, is filled with unspoken tension. It is the tension of the consciously self-denying, shared by pretty much all the female characters at this point, and dramatically speaking–it works. This was essentially the same engine that pushed Ozu’s movies along and we are going to get some kind of necessary catharsis soon. Or so I hope.
Of course all this sacrifice is probably a bit exaggerated–this is anime, after all–but Minori’s guilt seems believable rather than trumped up, and so is Taiga’s determination to care and perhaps “give back” to Ryuuji by setting him up with his Seemingly One True Love, even at great cost to herself. He has done a lot for her, after all. There were times when I felt similar kinds of impulses too, though sometimes in reality it can get mixed with resentment, and that is what seems to be missing in these depictions of heroic emotional suppression. Not that we don’t see that it’s hard, but that it’s done so willingly and wholeheartedly, especially on Taiga’s part. Never has she seemed more mature, and sympathetic, as when she tells Ryuuji that he can do it because she believes in him. I have no doubt that she means it completely and she feels incredible pain at that moment. There is something really attractive about that in general; it’s a sign of a good heart, and genuine care for the other.
The question is: can this last? Should it, even?
Because we know that so often, this sort of thing ends disastrously. As noble as it seems, it’s based on a form of emotional dishonesty; the truth will out, and it will not be comforting or pretty. This is what otherwise overdramatic shows like KimiNozo and White Album get right. What could be happening is really the last scraps of effort on the part of Minori, Taiga, Ami, and Ryuuji to maintain the “we’re all just good friends” status-quo, when it’s really about to fall apart. Taiga would probably be happiest, really, if she continued to push Ryuuji and Minori together–but not enough to actually make them fall for each other; Ami would be happiest if she continued making witty asides and slyly, indirectly hinting at her feelings and going no further; Minori would prefer to keep the genki fiction alive and feel innocent of stealing Taiga’s “man” from her. The show has been in that mode for most of its existence and there were so many beautiful moments, it’s as if–as Minori and Ryuuji muse Honey and Clover-style in episode 20–it ought to last forever, that in the words of the title it ought to be “always like this.” Some of the most beautiful moments in that friendship are coming now, near its end. That’s what makes it seem rather tragic in a way.
Speaking of Honey and Clover, I thought about the heartbreaking scene in season 2 when the gang talks about driving to the beach together one day. For a moment, Hagu reverts to her loli-ness (“Drivu!”), Yamada speaks with such hope about how much fun it will be, and Takemoto gets to grow further by actually driving somewhere (as opposed to just riding his bike). They sound like they will definitely go. But then, we are told in a devastating voice-over:
In the end, we never went to the ocean. For some reason, even though we didn’t have a single picture, that image of everyone together burned into the back of our eyelids and became the one image that will stay with us forever.
This presaged the ultimate drifting apart of the group of friends in H&C. It happens all too often in real life. How odd that everyone in Toradora is going on a class trip to a mountain, and not a beach too; and time will tell whether the image of friendship and trust we saw at the end of season 1 is going to be more like a memory rather than the reality.